Is The Constitution Based On Secular Enlightenment Writings: It’s Foundations of Freedom Thursday, a special day of the week where we get to answer questions from you, the listeners!  One of today’s questions deals with the Enlightenment and whether or not its influence on the Founding Fathers means that our government was based on a secular view of the world, or if there was actually a split in the Enlightenment. And if so, did the Founders listen to the secular enlightenment writers or the ones that still follow the Bible? We answer these questions and more, right here on WallBuilders Live! 

Air Date: 05/04/2017


Guests: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast.  However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers.  Additionally, names may be misspelled because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams said, “€œThe liberties of our Country and the freedom of our civil Constitution are worth defending against hazards. And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.”€

Rick:

Welcome to WallBuilders Live! Thanks for joining us today! We”€™re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, always looking at it from Biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton, America’s premiere historian. You can find out more about David at our websites WallBuilders.com and also myself, Rick Green. I’m a former Texas state rep and pastor.

This is Thursday so we do Foundations of Freedom Thursday. That’s our opportunity to dive into your questions about the Constitution, the Declaration, the Founding Fathers, basically the timeless principles of liberty upon which America was built, and the results that we’ve gotten, and how to restore those principles.

WallBuilders.com and WallBuildersLive.com to find out more. David, I always enjoy these foundations programs with you, man. I learn something every week and I know our listeners write in, not only with questions but just talking about how much they like this particular day. Not that they don’t like the other days, but specifically about this particular day.  It’s just that opportunity to dive into these areas of principles that maybe nobody else is covering.  Or they just are curious and want to learn more.

Foundational Principles To Build Upon

David:

Well, principals really are key.  Technology is really what changes, principles don’t change. We do planes now, they didn’t do planes 200 years ago. But we deal with the same laws of gravity now that they dealt with 200 years ago. We just have to take and handle the laws of gravity.

One of the reasons we fly planes is because we figured out how to deal with the Second Law of Motion. Which that’s what we have to do with planes. And so we use Bernoulli’s principle in shape of the wing. The bottom line is, the principles are timeless. They do not change, application changes through technology, but the principles will never change.

And that’s why this is such a significant time because we go back and look at core principles.  And once you get the principles right you can build all sorts of things on that.  But you have to start with the right principles.

George Mason who is one of the Founding Fathers who helped write the Constitution.  he is one of the main authors of the original Constitution of Virginia back in 1776.  And he says, “€œThe only way you preserve good government is by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”€ And that’s really what we do on these Foundation of Freedom Thursdays. We go back to fundamental principles and we show what the foundation is so that we can build properly on top of it.

Rick:

Well, we sort of let the audience pick what we’re going to talk about. So they send in emails. Folks, if you”€™re listening now and want to send in a question send it to Radio@WallBuilders.com. We obviously get more than we can actually answer. We try to get to them and try to group them together when they’re alike questions.

Have We Been Making An Idol Out Of The Constitution

Today’s question actually, we’ll see if we can get through. There’s a lot of questions in this one particular e-mail and they”€™re good questions. It’s topics that people are discussing. So, David, I”€™ll just kind of run through a little bit of the email and then toss it to you to tackle whichever part you want to hit first.

Today”€™s question comes from New York. It starts off this way, “€œDavid and Rick, I know you’re busy with full schedules but I was hoping you could give time to your opinion on the subject of the Constitution as it pertains to adherence to Biblical principles.

I heard on a radio program in New York that talked about some of the same topics you guys do. A synopsis of their recent broadcast I found it fascinating and frankly, a little upsetting, how we have been making an idol of the Constitution. I’d like to know your thoughts on this. If you have time to comment.”€

David, a quick summary of a couple of the points from that particular program. It was an interview with a with a pastor that said that he had come to understand the Constitution was not the great Bible-based document as alleged by some right-leaning activists. He shares that he came to this new perspective and that Christians should be aware that our federal constitution was influenced by the secular enlightenment which began creeping into American politics thought in the 18th century.

We”€™ll come back, I’ll read some more of that to you, David. But let’s start with even that idea of the secular enlightenment. Because we do kind of broad stroke the enlightenment and act like all of the writers of the enlightenment were secular. So if you could hit that one first.  Then we”€™ll come back to its influence specifically on our Constitution.

Going Back To The Bible

David:

You know, Rick, that’s a good question. Let’s cover that thing on the Enlightenment for a bit because there’s two forms of the enlightenment, or two, if you will, two camps of the enlightenment.

And the enlightenment is something that came out of the Renaissance. You have to understand even the background history of that is we went through a period of about twelve hundred years where the Bible was pretty much off limits. You could not read it in your own language. A lot of guys get killed for trying to bring it into the common language. Whether you’d look at people like John Hus or Wickliffe, or others, real resistance to putting the Bible in common man’s language.

Since you couldn’t read the Bible, illiteracy was really high because there are not many books worth reading other than the Bible, that was the belief then. So, “€œIf you can’t read the Bible then you don’t need to read it all.”€ Illiteracy was really high.

And then comes the Reformation that says, “€œGet back to the Bible.”€ And they get back to it and they say, “€œOh my gosh, look how we’ve been doing it wrong for so many years. Our education’s wrong, our government stuff is wrong, our judiciary is wrong, our economic system is wrong.”€ And so in those Reformation Bibles, which really boil down to what’s called the Geneva Bible. The reformers put all these commentaries in about how they”€™ve been doing it wrong in the culture, “€œHere’s what the Bible says.”€

And so as you get into that period of time where you”€™re getting back to the Bible- and part of that you see not only just in writings, we see it in the arts as well. You get the renaissance where you are coming back to the Bible. The Bible is the base to so much art and so much thinking and coming back into science.

The Two Camps To The Enlightenment

So the enlightenment develops out of that. You get people using the Bible now for reasoning, and for logic, and for political theory, and for philosophy, etc. Out of that, you get a spin-off group that comes along and says, “€œWe don’t buy the God bit, but we do think the mind is really important.”€ And that’s a secular enlightenment.

So as you look at the enlightenment you can break it into two very clear camps. Those that have a Christian or a Biblical view and those who have an anti-Christian are very secular view.

Christian Enlightenment

And on those, for example, that are Christian writers, you have Pufendorf, Francis Hutcheson, and Thomas Reid, and Hugo Grotius, and William Blackstone, and so many like that.

Secular Enlightenment

Then on the on the secular enlightenment side, you get Voltaire, and Denis Diderot,  and David Hume and ***,  and Rousseau, and ***, and Renault, and so many others. So you have two very clear camps.

The thesis that this guy is making is the Constitution was shaped by those that had the secular enlightenment viewpoint, that our Founding Fathers studied the secular enlightenment, and that’s what they used in shaping our documents.

I hear that a whole lot from professors and from university folks. “€œThe enlightenment is what shaped it, and those were secular guys.”€ No, timeout. There are two different camps. Now, do we know which camp shapes the way the Founders thought? And do we know which of those two camps affected the way the Constitution is written?

Building Upon Truth

Rick:

My guess is that we don’t even have to guess. Because they probably told us who they were reading and they and they quoted from them.

David:

And that is the real point. So when we come back we’ll get into where the Founding Fathers got their specific ideas. And it’s not a matter of conjecture, it’s not a matter of hope, it’s a matter of they specifically tell us where these ideas come from. And their writings tell us.

And we’ll just let them speak for themselves and see if this matches up with what this minister- and by the way, this minister I would argue has been listening to too many secular professors tell him what to think and now he’s just parroting them.

So we’re going to try to draw people back to going and checking the original documents, going back to original sources, don’t let people reinterpret it for you. Even what we say today, go back and check us out. Go back and look at the Founders’ writings, see what they said. And when you do that you come to the basis of truth. You want everything to be built on truth, not opinion and not conjecture.

Rick:

That”€™s why it”€™s just so important to go back to the original documents. One of the great blessings WallBuilders has is a massive library of over 100,000 original documents. So, when you’re quoting the Founding Fathers, going back to that original source.

Going to take a quick break. When we come back we’re gonna address this question. So first of all, was the enlightenment all secular writers? Or were there some that were God fearing and still Bible believing and Bible following? And if there were, which ones, and which camp were the Founding Fathers most likely to quote from and read from and actually form our culture in our society based upon? Stay with us.  We’ll be right back on WallBuilders Live!

President Calvin Coolidge:

President Calvin Coolidge said, “€œThe more I study the Constitution, the more I realize that no other document devised by the hand of man has brought so much progress and happiness to humanity. To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”€

Moment From American History

This is David Barton with another moment from America’s history. Crime is one of America’s most serious problems today. Its effects reach not only the direct victims of this violence but even those who have not been attacked. The concern for crime has not been limited to this century however, our Founding Fathers were also concerned about it.

Yet, the effects of crime unquestionably were much less in their generation. So what was their deterrent to crime? Signer of the Constitution James McHenry answered that question.

He explained, “€œThe Holy Scriptures can alone secure to society order and peace. In vain without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw protections around our institutions. Bibles are strong defenses, where they abound men cannot pursue wicked courses.”€

Founding Father James McHenry believed that widely teaching the Bible was the best means to deter crime. For more information on God’s hand in American history contact WallBuilders at 1 800 8 REBUILD.

Did The Founders Listen To The Secular Or Biblical Enlightenment Writers

President Thomas Jefferson

President Thomas Jefferson said, “€œ I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.  And if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”€

Rick:

Welcome back to WallBuilders Live on this is Foundations of Freedom Thursday.  We’re tackling an e-mail question from one of our listeners, Michael in New York. It’s a great set of questions we’re just the second paragraph in and the first question deals with the Enlightenment and whether or not its influence on the Founding Fathers means that our government was based on a secular view of the world or if there was actually a split in the Enlightenment. And if so, did the Founders listen to the secular enlightenment writers or the ones that still follow the Bible?

David, you listed already in the first segment several writers that were still God fearing and Bible following and then those that were purely secular. So, how do we know which ones the Founders followed?

David:

Well, you look at the Founding era, and the Founding era is what developed the thinking that led to the product of the Constitution. The Founding era goes from about 1760/1765 up through 1805. So that’s when you’re getting into the Stamp Act.  And now you’re getting into an Intolerable Act, and how we respond to what Great Britain is doing.  And what leads to the Declaration of Independence.

And then the state constitution and that leads to the federal constitution.   And then we go into how we implement that through the first administration, two terms with President Washington.

Then you go under President Adams and President Jefferson.   And so, by the time you get to 1805,  which you’ve really established yourself now as to what American government looks like feels like, how it operates and runs.

We’ve gone through all the thinking, we’ve gone through the development of the ideas, we put those ideas into documents, we put those documents into practice. So, we have there four decades of very clear indications of where the ideas came from and how they use those ideas.

America Is Truly Unique

So what happened was, as you look at the uniqueness of America, by the way, we are unique. The average length of a constitution in the history of the world is 17 years. Well, we’re here sitting well over 220 years with our Constitution.

And you look back to France.  France had their constitution after we did. They’ve already been through 15 constitutions. I was in Poland recently. I talked to people who were 100, years old, 95 years old, and 90 years old. If you”€™re  in your 90s in Poland you have lived through seven constitutions in your lifetime.


If you’re a baby boomer in South Korea you have lived through six constitutions in your lifetime. We have a unique and a special constitution. We’ve been, again, 220 something years under the same document. It is still working really well. So where do we get those ideas?

A couple of political science professors, University of Houston and Louisiana State University did a great piece called, “€œThe Origins of American Constitutionalism.”€ They said, “€œAlright, this great document we have that’s clearly outperformed every other document. Where did the ideas come from?”€

And they said, “€œIf we can go back and read representative writings out of the Founding era from 1760 to about 1805, we’ll look at those representative writings and we’ll see who they quoted.  And then we’ll take those quotes all the way back to the origins where they came from and we’ll know who they are siding.”€

I mean, if I followed you around all day, Rick, and wrote down every time you quoted something I would know who’s important to you by who you’re quoting, who you’re citing, and who you’re invoking his authority.

Rick:

Not only who I’m reading and listening to but who I agreed with. Otherwise, that wouldn’t be the one I chose to quote and to represent.

The First Most Cited Authority

David:

That’s right. And that’s exactly what these professors did. So they took 15,000 representative writings out of the Founding era across those decades. They took 15,000 writings and said, “€œAlright, let’s read them all.”€ They did. They found 3,154 direct quotes in those works. They took every quote back to its origin and they found that in the Founding era there were about 180 different authorities cited as a basis of ideas or responding ideas.

So then they broke it up and said, “€œWho are the most cited authorities in that era? Who gets more citations than anybody else?”€ And so as they looked there were four individuals that came to the top.

And considering that you have 3,154 citations 8.3% of all the citations given over that 45-50 year span you have you have 8.3% that came from Baron Charles Montesquieu. He’s a French philosopher, he is very Christian, very openly Christian.  He talks about how the Christianity has to be the basis of any government that’s going to work. So, that’s your number one authority.

Rick:

Even Spirit of Laws that’s quoted quite a bit, I mean people mention Montesquieu. But, man, I don’t associate that with him being Christian because nobody talks about that part of him.

David:

That’s right. Now he is an Enlightenment writer, no question about it. But you read his writings and here at WallBuilders, we own more than 100,000 documents from before 1812. I have that two volume set of Montesquieu”€™s Spirit of the Laws and that’s what the Founders used so often invoke so often. Matter of fact, when they were doing the separation of powers, he’s one of the guys they kept talking about.

Montesquieu tells us how to have separation of powers, and checks, and balances, and Montesquieu is openly Christian throughout his writings.

The Second Most Cited Authority

The second most cited authority was Sir William Blackstone. He got 7.9% of all the quotes. Sir William Blackstone is a is a British judge, had a four volume set of legal books that were used here in America by attorneys and by educated folks. Thomas Jefferson said that American attorneys studied Blackstone’s Commentaries the same way that Muslims studied the Qur’an, the same kind of dedication.

Blackstone’s Commentaries on the law were used in American law schools up until about the 1920″€™s when Harvard moved in a different direction and kind of started a movement away from those books.

So Blackstone’s Commentaries on the law, he goes through and specifically, if you start with volume 1, particularly Chapter 2, he goes through and shows you that every single law has to be based on God’s word. And that’s where we get the laws of nature, Nature”€™s God. God revealed Himself through nature Romans 1:20. And so you look at what God showed us in nature and you look at what God showed us in His Word. That’s the laws of Nature’s God. The laws, the God who created nature. And he said, “€œYou can’t have any good human law if it does not conform to God’s will as revealed either through nature or through His Word. So there’s a really Christian guy, now he’s out of the Enlightenment era but he’s not a secular enlightened guy.

The Third Most Cited Authority

The number three guy was John Locke, 2.9 percent of the quotes came from John Locke. John Locke, a very significant guy. He’s, in those early writings, back in the 1700s, they actually describe him as a theologian. He did one work that was particularly used by the Founding Fathers, Two Treatises of Civil Government in which he invokes, cites, or references the Bible over 1500 times in 400 pages.

I’m actually right now just finishing up an annotated- we’re making an annotated commentary of all of Locke’s uses of the Bible in those works. So, again, more than 1,500 allusions or references.

Rick:

That’s just like Montesquieu, for today’s, you know, for most people in America today. When you throw out John Locke I bet 99% of them think secular Enlightenment guy.

David:

They do. Do you read his works? Clearly not.  And that’s why we’re doing that annotated copy. It”€™s really worth reading, very significant content. You understand how American government operates, where we get so many of our ideas.

Matter of fact, Richard Henry Lee said specifically that we copied the Declaration of Independence out of Locke”€™s Two Treatise of Government. So he’s a huge guy.

The Most Important Cited Authority

Rick:

So, you’ve named three guys so far. So we guess we’ve got Montesquieu, Blackstone, and Locke. All three of them Christian Enlightenment guys. Not Hume, not Rousseau, and not any of the ones that the professors love to quote today.

David:

That’s right. Now, significantly, I’ve given you to 8.3, Montesquieu, Blackstone’s 7.9 percent, and Locke at 2.9 percent. Let me give you one at 34%. And that means four times more than the most cited authorities, 12 times more than Locke.

Rick:

Ok, so this is probably Rousseau, or Hume, or one of the secular guys.

David:

Actually, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t put them at that level because the 34% goes to the Bible. The Bible was the most frequently cited source in the Founding era. The Bible 4 times more often.

The Fourth Most Cited Writer 

We’ve looked at the top three writers and they were all Christian Enlightenment guys. The number four on the list is a guy named David Hume who’s an atheist writer. I have done a number of books where I cite this and show this. The Founding Fathers cited Hume on a regular basis to show how ridiculous his ideas were. They cite the atheist guy to show, “€œThis is what you don’t want.”€

Rick:

Ok, so they really did quote him, but not to say that this is the way we should do things. They quoted him to say that this is the wrong direction.

David:

Oh, I mean Founder after Founder. Jefferson beats up on Hume, Adams beats up on  Hume. Founder after Founder said, “€œThis is really bad stuff.”€ So go back to this preacher, go back to the podcast, or whatever they’ve got going, that said, “€œWell, the Constitution really is a secular document that came from Enlightenment writers.”€ Yeah, it came primarily from three Enlightenment writers that were Christian Enlightenment guys. The first time a secular Enlightenment guy was cited was just to beat up on his bad ideas but cited so many more times than any of those is the Bible.

The Conclusion Of The Study

The Bible wins. It is the number one most cited source in the Founding era. And that’s why we have a book called The Founders’ Bible. In the Founders Bible, we go through and show you passage, after passage, after passage, out of the Bible on which the Founders relied to create certain clauses in the Constitution.

Matter of fact, you’ll find almost verbatim wording in many clauses of the Constitution to passages in the Bible.

It’s a one to one correlation on the wording. And so for someone to say, “€œWell, it came from secular Enlightenment.”€ Number one, that tells him that you’ve been listening to secular professors who don’t have a clue what they’re saying.  They’re just repeating what they were told.

Number two you haven’t read the sources for yourself. And number three you haven’t even read the Constitution and if you have, you haven’t read the Bible.  Otherwise, you would see the language that makes it from the Bible into the Constitution. So pretty easy stuff to deal with.

Founder’s Bible App

Rick:

Incredible! Ok, we”€™ve got take a quick break.  We’ll be right back. We’ll get to some more of these questions out of this letter. In fact, we may cover some of this even next week. There are some really good questions in here and it”€™s the issues that people are talking about.

And by the way, as we go to break, for more information on that Founder’s Bible, check it out today at WallBuildersLive.com not only the physical one which is amazing, and is incredible, full color, just really nice inserts, and incredible stories.

But now we”€™ve got the Founders Bible App which is also very cool. And you can look up a lot of these articles and especially when these things come up in these discussions about, “€œWhat do the Founders actually think about these things?”€ So check that out for more information at WallBuildersLive.com. We’ll be right back with more of David Barton on Foundations of Freedom Thursday.

Outro:

Thomas Jefferson said, “€œThe Constitution of most of our states and of the United States asserts that all power is inherent in the people that they may exercise it by themselves that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed. That they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of press.”€

Constitution Alive

Have you ever wanted to learn more about the United States Constitution but just felt like, man, the classes are boring or it’s just that old language from 200 years ago or I don’t know where to start? People want to know. But it gets frustrating because you don’t know where to look for truth about the Constitution either.

Well, we’ve got a special program for you available now called Constitution Alive with David Barton and Rick Green. It’s actually a teaching done on the Constitution at Independence Hall in the very room where the Constitution was framed. We take you both to Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty and Independence Hall and to the WallBuilders”€™ library where David Barton brings the history to life to teach the original intent of our Founding Fathers.

We call it the QuickStart guide to the Constitution because in just a few hours through these videos you will learn the Citizen’s Guide to America’s Constitution.  You’ll learn what you need to do to help save our Constitutional Republic. It’s fun! It’s entertaining! And it’s going to inspire you to do your part to preserve freedom for future generations. It’s called Constitution Alive with David Barton and Rick Green. You can find out more information on our website now at WallBuilders.com.

Need More Proof

Intro:

Abraham Lincoln said, “€œWe the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts. Not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”€

Rick:

Welcome back, thanks for staying with us on this Foundations of Freedom Thursday.  David is tackling a few questions from one of our listeners in New York. Michael, we’re not going to get to all of your questions in your in your letter. But we may try to tackle some more of them next week.

So let’s come back to this, David. So, what other proof do you have that they were quoting these Christian Enlightenment folks, other than all of their quotes themselves, but in terms of the way they actually did the Constitution?

David:

Let’s just look at the way the Founders talked about the Constitution when they had finished it. Now, by the way, let me take you back to the Bible. Because we said that 34% of all the documented quotes from the Founding era from these represented writings went back to the Bible.

There is a phrase in the Bible that appears multiple times. For example, when the children of Israel are leaving Egypt God performs the ten miracles or ten plagues. Number three on the list is when the lice appeared and at that point the magicians of Pharaoh, they can’t reproduce lice and they say, “€œWow, this really is God because we can’t do this.”€

The Finger Of God

And here’s what they say in Exodus 8:17 -19 it says, “€œThe magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth lice. They couldn’t. Then the magician said to Pharaoh, “€˜This is the finger of God.”€ Listen to that word, “€œFinger of God.”€ Then when you have the handwriting on the wall, what was it? Back with Daniel and Belshazzar, it was the finger on the wall, handwriting on the wall.

Finger of God

Then as you move past that you go into, let’s go for example the Ten Commandments. When the Ten Commandments were written, we are told in Exodus 31 that they were written by the finger of God. Tablets of stone, God wrote them with his own finger.

Then you get into Jesus in Luke 11, Jesus says, “€œIf I cast out demons with the finger of God surely the kingdom of heaven has come to you.”€ So, Jesus says, “€œThe finger of God.”€ And that always meant the authority and the power of God.

So, let’s go to the Constitutional Convention. The Founding Fathers have now finished it. Here’s what Alexander Hamilton says, “€œFor my own part I sincerely esteem the Constitution system which without the finger of God could never have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest.”€ Finger of God. Let’s go to James Madison-

Rick:

I wonder where they got that idea.

David:

I wonder where they got that idea? Here’s James Madison.  James Madison said, “€œThe real wonder is that the Constitutional Convention overcame so many difficulties. And overcome them with as much agreement was unprecedented as it was unexpected.”€ Listen to this, he said, “€œIt’s impossible for the pious man not to recognize in the Constitutional Convention a finger of that almighty hand which was so frequently extended to us in the critical stages of the revolution.”€ There is the finger of God again.

Then let me take you down to George Washington.  He wrote Lafayette and said, “€œWe’ve done, as to my sentiments, with respect to the new constitution, it appears to me little short of a miracle. It demonstrates is visibly the finger of Providence as any possible event in the course of human affairs can ever designate it.”€ And on they go.

They keep saying, “€œThe finger of God did this. The finger of God.  The finger of God.”€ So tell me how they’re looking at this as a secular document? That’s what we don’t know today because we don’t study the original documents.  We don’t read their writings and we listen to a bunch of secular professors tell us what to think. Don’t do it.

Rick:

So much more evidence right there at WallBuilders.com and WallBuildersLive.com. In fact, be sure to go to WallBuilders and look at some of those articles. Go to WallBuildersLive.com check out that Founders Bible. There is just a wealth of information there and the footnotes are amazing. Get the truth folks and then share it with your friends and family. Hope you take a link of today’s program and share it with your friends and family. It”€™s been Foundation of Freedom Thursday here with David Barton on WallBuilders Live!

Outro:

Thomas Jefferson said, “€œThe Constitution of most of our states and of the United States asserts that all power is inherent in the people that they may exercise it by themselves that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed. That they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of press.”€